Well now, I’ve been stumbling

Well now, I’ve been stumbling along learning the blog software for Blogger.com (with intensive tutoring from my intrepid computer guru, Ben Tucker!) for the last several weeks. It’s time to “go public” and share the site with my students. Some of them (perhaps, you!) will choose to establish their own weblogs as a project for the Foundations of Education course. Ben tells me Blogger is probably the easiest for beginners, but there is an array of choices, and some may give more options for the technologically more sophisticated.
Please go to the Weblog Kitchen for a list of possible software programs for your Blog. And get ready to play! ­čÖé

The blizzard comes! Our usual

The blizzard comes! Our usual pre-storm flurry &emdash; water, flashlights, wood. It’s a way of life in Vermont, but I feel for the folks further south who aren’t accustomed to winter precautions and inconveniences. I anticipate we may lose power this time, as the cold has been so intense for so long the trees will not have much flex in them as the snow weights them down.

Quickly then, the New York Times finally starts to take the anti-war demonstrations seriously, not just one but two headline stories today! (But you can’t read them unless you subscribe.) Instead, look at this breakdown of 11 million marchers worldwide compiled by the Independent Media Center.

[the FP] and I recently watched one of the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. He was quite a compelling and inspirational guy. In speaking of teaching, he said (something to the effect of), “If you’re going to teach anything, teach people how to live!”

Somehow, I’ve got to inject some enthusiasm into the Writing class. I haven’t successfully conveyed any compelling reason for the first couple of assignments. Some of the students found their own reasons anyway (which is what good writers do – they take a thesis or assignment and take it in/take it on, turn it into a vehicle for thier own purposes and ambitions while staying true to the task), but most have not. I’m considering asking them to substitute their OWN “assignment” for the personal narratives. What if I simply give them their choice?

Some interesting things shared by

Some interesting things shared by some of my students: an 8th Grade Final Exam from 1892 and a recent article on Bush’s use of religious language. Also, a speech given to the US Senate by Robert Byrd, which I found via a link at Wil Wheaton’s blog. Wil (aka Wesley from Star Trek’s Next Generation. Star Trek lives!) posted about marching against the war with his mom in LA yesterday.

And a little social construction of reality from the United Nations: according to Maureen Dowd of the NY Times, “”Mr. Powell can’t very well seduce the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated women, men, children, bulls and horses…” Hence, the Guernica cover-up – Picasso’s anti-war painting, typically on display at the UN, was shrouded lest it offer ironic counterpoint to Powell’s call to war.

We’re into the second week

We’re into the second week of courses now. The division of labor between me and [the FP] in the online education class points not only to our areas of expertise, but to essential personality differences. She’s done a huge amount of work on the relationship end (responding in depth to student introductions), and I’ve done the more structural stuff (trying to clarify expectations around assignments and performance). It highlights to me that my connections with people come through joint engagement with a certain task (which could be anything we’re mutually interested in), whereas [the FP] connects with people first, and uses that connection to facilitate the task. Our styles are almost opposite in this way. This may have a lot to do with our chosen audiences too &emdash; [the FP] moves between high school and college, but I have only taught at the college level. Certainly the age group one is working with requires different sets of skills.

The writing class at UMass is going well, I think. My pace is slower – more measured -than last fall. Hopefully this will facilitate more reflection and engagement with the writing process than the frenetic energy I brought before.

In my Global Culture and Communication course, we’re reading The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism by Herman and McChesney. The authors show how advertising (by advertisers &emdash; notably transnational corporations) has come to manipulate, dominant, and control the content of global media, ever pushing towards entertainment instead of ‘public service’ engagement (which could lead to intelligent debate about large trends such as the spread of corporate capitalism). The ‘dominance of advertiser interests under conditions of advanced technology’ makes it possible for advertisers and the media to segregate people by income class, allowing concentrated service to the affluenct and in the process creating ‘the electronic equivalent of gated communities.’ Instead of unifying, the advertising regime divides’ (p. 142, referencing Turow). Because sex and violence sells internationally (no language translation issues), it is pervasive. Any commitment to the welfare of children is clearly only rhetorical: “Half of primetime dramatic characters engage in violence and about 10 percent kill, as they have done since 1967. Children’s weekend programming ‘remains saturated with violence,’ with more than twenty-five acts of violence per hour, as it has done for years” (emphasis mine, p. 146, referencing Gerbner and Signorielli).
It’s a bit unnerving to be reading this while taking the Organizational and Administrative Theory course, in which the roots of this kind of associating with others in groups called “organizations” are explicated. It’s not hard to grasp why there are such strong trends of apathy and pessimism about humanity these days. Even without impending war with Iraq.

As teachers then, we need to be aware of the HUGE socializing influence of the media &emdash; both in terms of ADVERTISING and CONTENT, not only upon those whom we teach, but also upon ourselves. Careful examination of the assumptions and values underlying the daily taken-for-granted aspects of our culture must occur if we are to minimize the transmission of values with which we inherently disagree.

Teaching Foundations of Education with

Teaching Foundations of Education with [the FP] this semester gives me the opportunity to review and critique my own philosophy and style of teaching. I’ve been quite influenced by group relations theory and its emphasis upon authority relations: this has led me to pay particular attention to structure and boundaries, and to think about the roles and task(s) inherent in an academic setting. In the college classroom, I consider the students to be equal participants in the process of learning. The structure of my courses reflects this, I think, in my clarity around boundaries (such as a no late work policy), which has the effect of situating a significant amount of responsibility upon the student to embrace the role of learner.
My style is to respect the choices that students make, with the real world caveat that choices have consequences. The work gets done or it doesn’t, students come to class or log in, or they don’t. All I can do is remind them of the criteria and expectations. When students do embrace the role of learner, everyone benefits from the discussions that ensue, including &emdash; most definitely! &emdash; me. In some ways I guess this is a selfish mode. If I put my energy into the nitty-gritty details of clarifying and enacting expectations right up front, then we can move into the subject material more deeply, without having to worry too much about logistical distractions.
Which isn’t to say everything runs smoothly! The writing class I’m teaching at UMass is a required course that most students approach reluctantly, and I have my own ambivalences &emdash; English is not a subject I have ever studied. I am more confident this semester though, the second time around and I think I have found a way to ground the curriculum with assignments that I can get excited about. If I’m jazzed up, it’s much more likely that I can bring some, perhaps even most of the students around. Our first class was rather grim, very few smiles, although voluntary participation was pretty good. I’m not much of a punster, but I am a group dynamics person, and what I enjoy most is identifying dynamics without judging them. Naming things opens them up for discussion and can often be done humorously. In hindsight, I realize that I didn’t feel free to make these observations the first time I taught this course.
Online the boundaries are even sharper, and the lack of face-to-face accountability really puts the onus on the student to embrace their role. It requires a completely different kind of trust &emdash; that ‘someone’ is really ‘out there’ reading, thinking, and writing conscientiously about the topic at hand.